When my friend Alyssa called to tell me that we finally had a date for our union vote, my first thoughts were of the people I wanted to tell. I thought about my colleague Adom, who first told me about the union, my friend Lisa, whom I’ve talked to for years about how a contract could improve mental health care, and my neighbors in East Rock who have stood with us. These people are part of why I’m excited to vote yes to form a union on Feb. 23.
I started this semester by celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day in a packed room surrounded by a lot of people I didn’t know very well. They were community leaders and clergy from every corner of New Haven; service, maintenance, clerical and technical workers; United States Senators; undergrads; local elected officials; graduate teachers like me. We were gathered to celebrate how far working people in New Haven have come and to commit to continue working for a future with good jobs for everyone.
This coalition is the reason I first joined Local 33. But since then, I’ve come to care deeply about the ways that a union contract could affect my friends’ lives and the future of higher education.
Talking to my colleagues in the department about the union has taught me a lot. My friend Anna has two children and struggled with the lack of affordable child care options at Yale. I saw how hard it was for her to do her work while shuttling her daughter to a day care in Hamden by bike or bus every day. The lack of good child care options for graduate teachers poses a particular challenge for women trying to have families and academic careers.
Now my colleague Patrick is about to have a baby, and he’s worried about how he’ll afford child care. Last semester, the administration said they wanted to take action on child care but couldn’t for fear that the union would file an unfair labor practice charge against them. Local 33 immediately committed not to file such a charge, but the administration still hasn’t announced a child care initiative. I want a union contract that gives people like Anna and Patrick affordable child care options and allows them to fully participate in the life of the University.
A lot of my colleagues need better access to mental health care. My friend Charles has struggled with depression and anxiety and faced extremely long wait times and session caps that have made it impossible for him to access long-term, consistent care. This month, his therapist told him he had used all of his sessions for the year and would have to wait until next semester to resume treatment. I want a contract that would give him access to the care he needs.
I’ve also talked with friends who don’t need much for themselves. They don’t have kids who need to be cared for or spouses who need to be able to see a doctor. They don’t need more financial security or access to mental health care. But they realize that their friends and colleagues need these things, so they’re voting “yes” to support them.
I’m voting “yes” for my friends, but I want a union for myself too. My course of study requires five qualifying exams and extra coursework and program requirements. I want to be sure that I’ll be able to continue teaching in Political Science in my later years in the program so I can support myself along the way. I also want a future in academia, so I’m excited to join a growing wave of graduate employees nationwide who are organizing and asserting a vision for the universities where we want to work.
When I go to vote, I’ll think about the community we’ve built over years of conversation and that we’ll continue to build for years to come. I’ll think about the union and community members organizing for good jobs all over New Haven. I’ll think about my mother, who has worked as an adjunct for two decades, and whose union has given her the security and recognition that her work deserves. And I’ll think about the future I want for myself.
To me, forming a union is about choosing to look out for one another. In a moment when so many people are divided, I’m voting “yes” for a community that sticks together.
Mie Inouye is a graduate student in the political science department. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .